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Death toll mounts as storms lash Europe

28 lutego, 2010

Hurricane-force winds, surging seas and driving rain lashed western Europe on Sunday, leaving at least 13 people dead and more than a million households without power.

Dubbed "Xynthia", the Atlantic storm crashed Saturday against the western coasts of France and Spain, bringing with it a band of foul weather stretching from Portugal to the Netherlands.

Britain, already suffering localised flooding from a previous weather system, was braced was more weather misery.

Gusts of up to 150 kilometres per hour (93 mph) and eight metre (26 foot) waves battered the northern and western coasts of France, flooding inland and sending residents scurrying onto rooftops.

"We have confirmed five deaths in the area of La-Faute-sue-Mer and l\'Aiguillon-sur-Mer," said Herve Rose, a government spokesman in the low-lying Vendee region, where flood waters in some coastal towns reached 1.5 metres.

Separately, an 88-year-old woman was found drowned in her home on the island of Oleron in Charentes-Maritime further south, police said.

Two more bodies, that of a 10-year-old boy and of a pensioner, were found in Charentes-Maritime, a regional official said. French authorities had said Saturday that a man was killed by a falling tree in the Pyrenees mountains.

In Spain, regional authorities said Sunday that two men aged 51 and 41 died when the car they were travelling in was hit by a falling tree. An 82-year-old woman was killed Saturday when a wall collapsed in the Galicia region.

Portugal said Saturday that a 10-year-old boy was killed by a falling branch in the northwest of the country.

In France, fallen powerlines caused blackouts for around a million homes across a 500 kilometre (310 mile) swathe of the country from the Brittany peninsula to the highlands of the Massif Central.

Air France announced that 70 flights out of 700 were cancelled from its hub at Paris Charles de Gaulle, as chaos gripped transport networks across western Europe at the end of French school\'s half-term break.

A major road crossing between France and Spain was closed to heavy goods vehicles, causing a 1,200-vehicle tail back of seven-tonne trucks on the French side of the Pyrenees.

According to a report on Europe 1 radio, wind speeds hit 175 kilometres per hour at the tip of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, but the storm fell short of the record 200-kph levels of the deadly 1999 hurricane.

A hurricane is defined as a storm with winds consistently above 118 kph. The storm developed in the Atlantic off the Portuguese island of Madeira, still reeling from the flash floods sparked by heavy rains that wrecked the centre of the capital Funchal and killed 42 people a week ago.

Powerful winds and heavy rain hit Spain\'s Canary Islands archipelago late on Friday, with gusts of up to 128 kilometres per hour reported.

The storm swept northeast into northwestern Spain late on Saturday afternoon, where wind gusts reached 147 kph and some 27,000 households were without electricity, regional authorities said.

Rail services were cancelled in Galicia as well as in the northern regions of Asturias, Cantabria, the Basque Country and parts of Castilla y Leon, where the storm left some 63,000 households without power.

In the Basque Country, where power was cut to some 30,000 homes, a construction crane crashed onto a three-storey house Abaltzisketa, causing major damage but no casualties.

"This is a very deep, very intense and very fast-moving storm," Spanish Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba said, warning people to avoid using their cars and taking mountain or sea walks.